An acquaintance invited me to dinner at her house last month, which I quickly realized was an excuse to get me in the same room as her daughter, a recent college grad looking for her first writing job.
I'm happy to help the kids of my peers when I can, especially those who, like my acquaintance's daughter, are personable, smart and passionate about their interests. Only problem was, from a professional standpoint, my colleague's next of kin made a miserable impression.
She wasn't baring her midriff or texting through dinner. But it quickly became apparent that rather than using the opportunity to ask me for professional advice, this 20-something instead hoped I would wave a magic wand and pronounce her employed.
There were no questions about how I'd launched my career, what I thought of my work or what steps she could take to attain a job in her desired field. No writing-related internships, volunteer projects or paid work in her lengthy academic history. No blog, social media account or portfolio of samples. No clue what type of entry-level writing jobs were out there or what professional associations existed to help aspiring young writers. In short, no steps taken to make the leap from the customer service work she'd been doing since college to the writing career she fantasized about.
Mining your parents' professional network for career advice is a smart move, but only if you come prepared. Following are the top five ways 20-somethings blow it when networking with their parents' peers:
Neglect to Google the person you're meeting with. If you haven't taken the time to read about your parents' pals on LinkedIn and their company websites, you're not ready to meet with them. This isn't about sucking up. It's about knowing how these people can help you professionally and what questions they can answer for you. It's also about showing some initiative. Your dad's running buddy will be much more likely to pass your resume along to his friend in HR if he knows you're resourceful and self-motivated.
Come without any questions prepared. Your mom has set you up on a coffee date with her best friend from college, who just happens to run her own web design company. An aspiring designer yourself, you probably have a million and one questions about how this woman got her first client, how she made the transition from employee to entrepreneur, what her typical workday looks like, what she loves and hates about her career and so on. Ask them. Don't waste this woman's time talking about the weather. She agreed to help, so do a little research on her career trajectory, write down at least seven questions you'd like to ask her and fire away.
Blow off taking notes. If someone's giving you a list of websites, books and professional organizations that can help you, make a note of them. Trust me, you won't remember the particulars later, and your parents' friend won't want to take the time to email you a recap of the entire conversation the next day. This is one face-to-face meeting where tapping away on your smartphone is encouraged.
Saying 'I'll take any job.' It's great that you're a quick study with a diverse set of skills. But when your parents' peers ask what sort of job you're looking for, "Anything that pays" is the wrong answer. People don't want to do the legwork for you. If you tell people, "I'd like to work in computer gaming," they know to keep their eyes out for relevant resources and leads. Not so if you merely say, "I'm sort of interested in technology." If you have no idea what type of job you might want or what fields even interest you, do some research before taking the time to meet with your parents' pals. Why make a mediocre first impression when you can make a stellar one?
Forget to follow up. Because he or she has some sort of allegiance to your mom or dad, a busy person who doesn't know you from Adam took an hour out of the day to walk you through the particulars of breaking into a particular profession. The least you could do is email the person a note of thanks (not a text or a tweet, but a bona fide email). If you really want to impress the person, send a follow-up note via the U.S. Postal Service. And if the person recommended another colleague for you to talk to or tossed you a job lead, make sure you follow up later to say how it went. Remember, the more on the ball your parents' pals find you, the more likely they'll continue to send helpful tips, leads and other colleagues your way.
This work is the opinion of the columnist, and in no way reflects the opinion of ABC News.
Michelle Goodman is a freelance writer and former cubicle dweller. Her books include My So-Called Freelance Life: How to Survive and Thrive as a Creative Professional for Hire and The Anti 9-to-5 Guide: Practical Career Advice for Women Who Think Outside the Cube. Follow her at @anti9to5guide.